Venice Film Festival boss defends including Roman Polanski movie in competition

Venice Film Festival bosses have also been blasted for only having two women filmmakers in competition at this year's event.

Venice Film Festival boss Alberto Barbera has defended his decision to include a film by controversial director Roman Polanski in this year's competition.

Artistic director Barbera revealed a 21-strong competition selection on Thursday, prompting an uproar on social media from those who expressed their outrage at The Pianist director's new movie, An Officer and a Spy, being included.

Polanski has been a controversial figure in the film industry since the late '70s, when he was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl at a Hollywood party. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor and he has been a fugitive of the U.S. ever since.

In an interview with Variety, Barbera defended his decision and called on people to separate the 85-year-old's work and his personal life.

"This is a great movie. We're talking the same level as The Pianist... And I have no doubt it will be recognised as such," he said. "The only thing you can do is distinguish between the man and the artist. Polanski is a great artist, one of the last great European auteurs. I didn't hesitate for a second in taking it....

"It's ridiculous. If you can't make a distinction between the culpability of a person and that person's value as an artist, you aren't going to get anywhere... Polanski's problems with L.A. County and his conscience are his personal problems, aside from the fact that I think that, after 40 years of tribulations, he's paid for what he did. But as a festival director, what counts is that he made a great movie."

The competition line-up also caused controversy as it only features two female directors - Haifaa Al-Mansour and Shannon Murphy.

In response, Barbera stressed that there is more representation of female filmmakers across all strands of the festival, and added, "What I'm never going to do is take a movie directed by a woman just to raise the proportion."

Other competition titles include Brad Pitt's sci-fi movie Ad Astra, Steven Soderbergh's financial thriller The Laundromat, and Joaquin Phoenix's turn as Batman's nemesis in Joker.

The festival runs from 28 August to 7 September.

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